Athena Recreation Teams Creating Lasting Memories for Residents
National Therapeutic Recreation Week from July 9th through the 15th celebrates therapeutic recreation programs and services that help create lasting memories for nursing home residents. Athena Health Care Systems focuses on providing the best life for residents in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island through our recreation departments’ creative and fun ways of keeping residents active and engaged.
The goal of an Athena activities department is to create a social and engaging environment for the thousands of residents living at our managed centers across Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The recreation teams plan, organize, and put on a wide variety of events and programs for residents to participate in from arts and crafts to movie nights to adventures out on the town.
Catherine Tarr has been a Recreation Director for 35 years. She joined Cape Regency Rehabilitation & Health Care Center in Centerville, Massachusetts three years ago during the pandemic. Finding ways to keep residents social and safe was not an easy task but she found creative ways to do so. Now, the residents and staff are able to enjoy time together and Tarr is able to utilize her decades of experience as best as she can.
“When they come in, you have to look at everybody as an individual and figure out what do they like to do, how do they like to do it, and you have to be willing to adapt your calendar according to the clientele you have in,” she said. “You can’t have just a set program because it doesn’t always meet the people that you have in your facility at any given time frame.”
Tarr said activities at a nursing center offer community and keep the residents’ minds working. They try to encourage residents to take part in the fun, but Tarr acknowledges there are people who are anti-social. In those circumstances, the recreation departments find ways to bring activities more suited to their personality type. That can include multiple activities going on at one time so people can choose which they would prefer. Sometimes it’s activities with their group of friends. Activities provide a sense of control for residents where many parts of their day including care and meals are more often on a set schedule.
Lissie Leddy, the Recreation Director at Heatherwood Rehabilitation & Health Care Center in Newport, Rhode Island notes activities let a person decide how they would like to spend their day, and they listen to that feedback.
“At home, we do things that interest us. It’s not just about getting up, getting dressed, eating meals. It’s the other stuff that makes your life enjoyable and fun,” the director, Leddy, said.
Leddy, who is also a Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant, has been at Heatherwood for almost five years. She and her team like to build a rapport with the residents so they feel motivated and inspired to take part in the fun. Many are still adjusting to living in a nursing home setting, and engaging with them can help break down that wall.
Building relationships is an important part of Tarr’s activities department and that at Montowese Health & Rehabilitation Center in North Haven, Connecticut. Tracy Guliani has been the director of the recreation department since September, previously coming from Glastonbury Health Care Center. She also serves in a regional role to help activities departments across the state. Guliani said bonds are important to understand how residents want to spend their time at the center. She recalls one resident who was a former truck driver. They would watch truck shows online and it would boost his spirits throughout the day.
“We do a lot of one-to-one visits with the residents,” Guliani said, as her center gets a lot of short-term rehab residents who are interested in word puzzles, coloring books, and magazines.
The staff at the centers need to make the residents feel at home and tailor fun ways to do that. It can include ordering food, watching the newest released movies, bringing in exercise classes or educational programs, and social games like Bingo to get everyone together.
“We get to bring to them a sense of value and a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging, which I think is really important. Everybody needs to feel valued and important like they belong and they have a space to contribute and I think activities gets to do that,” Tarr said. “The activities department and activities staff see a different side of a resident than anybody else does.”
Activities can also keep residents engaged in their community. During Nursing Home Week in May, Cape Regency donated donuts to the local fire department and helped feed the homeless population. Tarr said events like that are important to residents so they engage in the world around them.
Heatherwood uses their van to take residents on adventures to the beach in downtown Newport, or simply, a ride around the town.
“The mind is just as important as the body. You can’t just come here and get rehab, get your meals, and get your medicine and be 100%. You need that extra social stimulation,” Leddy said.
Guliani also likes to host events for staff at Montowese to boost their morale and will often get them involved with the resident activities so they can connect in a different way. She said there’s no better feeling than bringing a resident out of their shell.
“It’s very beneficial to the way they feel about themselves. Some of them don’t have families to come and visit them so some of them get lonely or they just need some encouragement,” she said.
Lawrence Santilli, President and C.E.O. of Athena Health Care Systems said the recreation teams create opportunities for residents.
“It is so important to provide social activities to meet the needs of our residents,” Santilli said. “Those social activities look different for every residents and our experienced, dedicated, and thoughtful recreation staff provide various opportunities to our residents to meet their social, mental, and emotional needs.”
All of the managed centers across Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island work hard to ensure residents and staff are enjoying their time and creating lasting memories. If you or a loved one are interested in learning how Athena can be a part of your healthcare journey, visit our website or call us at 860-751-3900.